NATIONAL NEWS - Poachers have caused millions of rands worth of damage and destroyed hundreds of macadamia trees at four upper Tongaat farms in KwaZulu-Natal.
The week-long rampage started last Monday night, 13 July.
A farmer who spoke to the North Coast Courier on condition of anonymity said a group of men entered a macadamia farm by cutting through the farm fence and managed to cut down 14 trees before they were seen and ran away.
“Tuesday night was relatively quiet but on Wednesday they targeted another farm and made off with 12 bee boxes (many macadamia farmers use bees as a natural pollinator) after cutting metres of his fencing.”
On Thursday the group targeted a third farm, cutting down 132 macadamia trees.
According to the farmer, 75% of the vandalised trees were five years old while the remainder were four-year-old trees.
Macadamia saplings can take up to 18 months before they are ready to be planted, and a further four to five years before the first crop can be expected.
The loss of income and earnings amounts to hundreds of thousands of rands.
Umhlali South African Police Service (SAPS) were called to the scene but the farmers were allegedly told not to open a case as there were no witnesses or suspects and therefore the police would not be able to investigate destruction of their property.
Incensed by the police’s reluctance, many of the farmers also fear retaliation as they have been threatened by the increasingly brazen gangs when they are confronted.
A young macadamia tree sawed off at the base. South Africa is one of the world’s largest producers of macadamia nuts, mostly exported to China. Image: Supplied.
Many fires that sweep across the farms are suspected to be sparked by arson.
“The woman officer said she could give us an incident report number for insurance purposes but they were not prepared to open a case.”
On Saturday, 10 men arrived on another farm with at least 20 hunting dogs. The farmers alerted their security company who came in with backup staff.
Umhlali SAPS was also called after the farmers escalated the previous incident to provincial headquarters. This time a case was opened by the police.
“They merely said to us that they had lost their dogs and had come onto the farm to fetch them. This is the standard excuse they use when we confront them.”
The following day, Sunday, about 25 men with at least 30 dogs were spotted moving across the farm. Security and Umhlali Saps were alerted once again to the group of poachers, who fled before security arrived.
According to the farmers these are the latest in a long-running series of incidents plaguing them. However this is the first time poachers have arrived in such large numbers and been so brazen.
“When we confronted them they told us this is their land and they have a right to hunt on it and will do so if they want.”
The men, believed to be residents of the nearby Mkumbayuswa community, target the wildlife on the farms.
“We have bushbuck, bushpig, blue duiker and a variety of other wildlife which we nurture, but they are becoming severely depleted as a result of poaching.
“A while back, the police did a sting operation and recovered a number of illegal firearms, including an unlicensed shotgun and handgun. This is the first time in many years that I have taken my wife and daughter to stay with my in-laws as I fear for their safety.”
The farmers have vehemently denied allegations that the destruction of property was pay-back for the shooting of a hunting dog.
Another farmer who asked not to be named said the poachers were not mere subsistence hunters looking for food.
“They are part of a larger syndicate that forms part of a big betting business.”
It is believed that owners of hunting dogs compete against one another to see who has the best dog and which dog can make the most kills. Money is exchanged between dog owners, as they bet to see who is the best hunter.
“This is about sport and using the animals to make money,” he said.
The farmers said they would be meeting with the Mkumbayuswa elders to see how the situation could be addressed.
KZN police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed that the incidents would be investigated.